It’s a Long Term Commitment


By Amanda Leavitt

20151127_114058Almost 30 years ago the Leavitt family, my husband’s family, moved into a fixer-upper farmhouse complete with 96 acres of rolling hills of old cow-grazing farmland. They had no plans to invest in cows, so a friend suggested they plant Christmas trees, because they would “grow themselves and require little investment.” So began Candle Tree Farm, my family’s Christmas tree farm. So the story goes… and boy, was that friend wrong! Not all Christmas trees grow in that beautiful cone shape we love, and weeds are happy competitors with baby pine trees, and droughts are a real thing, and deer think fir trees are delicious snacks. Unlike ordinary crops, it takes a Christmas tree five to fifteen years to mature, be cut down, and enjoyed in a family’s home at Christmas time. Christmas trees require yearly pruning, weeding, an assortment of sprays, and they need protection from bugs, disease, and their arch nemesis, cute adorable deer. Of course, as they are harvested, about 4000 more need to be planted yearly, and as any gardener knows, every year a garden needs to be tilled to make the soil hospitable for new plants.

20151127_114157My fourth Christmas tree selling season with the Leavitt family came and went with 2015. We collapsed on December 25th and hid for a few days after Christmas before I plunged back into ministry. It may seem curious that I am sharing about trees, but I began reflecting about that at the end of the year; selling trees occupies all of my waking moments, and I can’t quite contain it from seeping into my ministry thoughts as well. Truth be told, trees–their lives, well being, and care plans–usually occupy my husband’s thoughts every day of the year. They just fill mine for about 30 days, where I join in during our busiest farm season.

But, I am a youth minister. As I was thinking about tree season, I began thinking about my 365 day a year “work”. I began picturing my church’s little children as the little tiny pine trees we plant at our farm. The way my husband is deeply invested in his trees; I am deeply invested in the lives, well being, and spiritual “care plans” of the students in my church and community. I began realizing: in the way my whole family tends to our trees at the farm, whole churches should be caring for growth of young people. At the farm we have a specific care plan for each season and for each variety of tree. Every few years, a new variety becomes popular, and we have to learn to care for that type of tree. Every few years a new disease or pest becomes a problem and we have to learn to combat that issue and add that into our care plan for the trees. For the success of our family business it is important that our whole family and crew are aware of and invested in our care plans.

20151127_115416A challenging but important part of what we do in youth ministry is having an equally specific care plan for all the different varieties of people God gives us to help grow in our communities. Just like my husband has to help me understand what Swiss Needle Caste is, why our Christmas trees are suddenly Halloween Orange, and how we can help them heal, as a youth leader I can guide my church community to have an awareness of cultural shifts and community problems and pains that influence people of all ages, and then help identify the ways we may need to adjust our care plans to help teenagers thrive in their faith lives. Like I said, I have trees on my mind:  I noticed this year how gorgeous some of our 15 year old trees are, and how 15 years of purposeful tending from my husband has a lot to do with their vitality. Raising students in our churches is a long term commitment of purposeful tending. That tending will allow them to have vitality as they grow in their faith. What is that old saying? “It takes a village to raise a child.” Youth workers have the position to help our faith circles effectively tend to the growth and care of both the children and adults in our communities: it takes a careful plan for all people growing in the Lord to continue growing with vitality.

I am reminding myself too, how important it is to have a well-prepared care plan of my own to grow in faith myself, so I am prepared for changes, challenges, and rough patches life and ministry may put in front of me. From what I understand, all of us youth ministry folks need reminding of that, and often. Happy New Year and Happy Growing!